Out-of-state money dominates giving for biggest PACs

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New Mexico political action committees raised $16.5 million and spent nearly $15.8 million from 2015 through Dec. 3.

Leading the way were GOP super PAC Advance New Mexico Now and Democratic super PAC Patriot Majority New Mexico, with both groups targeting key legislative races.

Advance still had $284,000 in cash left as of Dec. 3, money that could have been spent in its efforts to help Republicans retain control of the state House. Democrats took back the House and increased their margins in the state Senate.

New Mexico In Depth analyzed PAC fundraising and spending through the latest reports filed last week. Excluded were the two primary state party committees and Act Blue, which funnels individual donations to candidates.

Super PACs such as Advance and Patriot Majority may take unlimited donations in exchange for spending on campaigns independently of candidates or political parties. Such groups have overtaken parties and even candidates in spending on elections.

Legislative candidates, for example, spent more than $10 million on their campaigns.

Here are the top 15 PACs in terms of money raised, which accounted for 57 percent of the $16.5 million raised. Included in that is about $269,000 in in-kind contributions, typically services or supplies, that aren’t included in spending totals.

Little of Patriot Majority’s money came from New Mexico. Ninety percent came from unions based in Washington, D.C., and $140,000 came from gun-control advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety in New York.

Only 15 percent of Advance New Mexico Now’s contributions came from New Mexico. Some 37 percent came from donors based in Texas. And the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that primarily funds state legislative races, donated $375,000 to Advance.

Susana PAC, operated by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, and the House Democratic Campaign Committee are traditional PACs. They abide by contribution limits, and may coordinate with candidates or political parties.

Here are the top 10 individual donors to all PACs, all but one of whom donated to Advance, Susana PAC or another GOP PAC. Billionaire George Soros donated to a super PAC aimed at helping Democrat Raul Torrez win the Bernalillo County district attorney primary.

But the Republican advantage in individual and even corporate big donors is overshadowed by union contributions to Democratic PACs. In some instances, teachers and public employee unions donate to a super PAC such as Patriot Majority. In addition to campaigning for or against candidates, Patriot Majority also donated to other, smaller PACs.

Here are the top 10 union and corporate donors. Everytown For Gun Safety, League of Conservation Voters and the Committee on Individual Responsibility are designated as nonpartisan because they gave or have given to GOP candidates in this cycle or in the past.

Advance and Patriot Majority also topped the list of biggest spenders. These 15 PACs accounted for 56 percent of the total $15.8 million spent.

Advance, Patriot Majority and New Mexico Together played big roles in legislative races. New Mexico law doesn’t require PACs to designate how much money was spent in specific races, so it’s difficult to discern how much impact a PAC had in certain contests.

What is certain is that two years after Advance helped Republicans win the House for the first time in 60 years, Democrats regained control with a 38-32 majority. In the Senate, Democrats increased their majority by two, to 26-16.

That’s despite the defeat of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, Advance New Mexico Now’s biggest target. The super PAC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV, radio and print ads attacking Sanchez. Again, because PACs aren’t required to disclose what races they’re spending on, it’s impossible to know exactly how much Advance spent to defeat Sanchez.

But GOP legislative candidates lost at least four other races that Advance got involved in.

Patriot Majority focused primarily on House races, with six of nine candidates they helped winning. New Mexico Together won five of the six Senate races it spent on. Its only loss was Sanchez’s seat to Republican Greg Baca of Belen.

Interestingly, several top PACs still had money in the bank on Dec. 3, the end of the final filing period for the 2016 election period.

Advance had nearly $284,000 left; Susana PAC had more than $161,000, New Mexico Together had nearly $146,000 and Patriot Majority had about $43,000 unspent.

The analysis of state PAC data doesn’t include GOAL WestPAC, a federal super PAC based in Texas but primarily funded by New Mexico oil and gas and ranching interests. That group spent more than $367,000 on New Mexico legislative races.

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